This week’s dead (maybe comatose?) project is a dystopian biopunk novel called Avarice. I started this in the heady days of 2009, back when I was still actively trying to get Stars Rain Down published. Man, what a crazy time to be alive. It was the very next thing I worked on after Stars, and I’d hoped to finish it later that year. Seems that didn’t happen.
It even had a tentative cover design.
The story (like most dystopian fiction) was intended as an examination of current day issues, specifically wealth inequality and the ascendance of monopolistic corporate power. The setting was somewhat inspired by Frank Herbert’s The Dosadi Experiment, a wonderfully interesting and excellent novel which I’d just finished reading, mated up with a large number of peculiar ideas I’d had floating around for some time.
Although I refer to it as biopunk, I should probably note that I haven’t ever read any books in that subgenre; it just seems like the most appropriate description for what I had. I don’t rightfully know what else to call a story set in a dense urban environment, overrun by corporate powers and rife with the gruesome products of genetic engineering… so, apologies to any biopunk fans if what I have here doesn’t quite fit.
Alrighty. Time to lift the curtain.
Chapter 1: Membrane
Matthias Cole stomped through the crunchy, decaying brush that smothered everything to the far horizon, the glow of sunrise hot on his heels. He’d been going non-stop throughout the night but time was running out. He needed to find cover before daylight struck. Before leviathan awoke.
His infant daughter, Ellia was strapped to his back. She lay there motionless, looking entirely too much like an angel. Her tiny body was seering hot like a bundle of burning reeds, and her rasping cough reminded Matthias why he was there. She was all the reason he needed to march right back into hell… she was all the reason he had left.
The early morning light was flat grey, sifted down out of an indecisive sky. He guessed the thin film of gauzy clouds might buy him an extra minute or two, maybe a half-hour if he was really lucky. He didn’t feel particularly lucky, though, and hadn’t for quite some time. Luck had walked out of his life, and only cunning had kept him alive in her absence.
Then, through the endless thicket of dark and twisted trees, he finally caught sight of his goal. It was a featureless black wall, a glistening membrane that surrounded the city and protected it from the madness of leviathan beyond. Matthias was almost there, and the realization filled his chest with a fifth wind.
Crunch, crunch, crunch went his booted feet as he plowed through the brush and bramble. One hundred yards remained, then fifty, and then twenty-five.
The sickened cry of leviathan arose from many places at once. A thousand hungry mouths howled behind him, and the ground beneath his feet began to writhe, but Matthias continued on, sure-footed and true. There was no time for doubt, so he pushed it aside and instead filled his heart with every last ounce that remained of his hope.
It was enough.
It had to be enough.
Then he was there.
The wall stretched away from him, upwards and outwards, smooth and shiny like obsydian. There was a deepness to the black, like a quiet and shiftless lake. Like the night sky empty of stars.
Matthias averted his eyes before he could make out anything in the reflection. There were things behind him that he preferred never to see again. Once had been more than enough.
Instead, with his gaze firmly fixed on the ground beneath his feet, he raised his fist and began to beat on the wall. Each strike produced a hollow gong, like pounding on some unimaginably huge and hollow vase. Each deep tone echoed within and back to him.
“Let me in!” he bellowed. “Damn you! Let me in!”
His pleas were met with silence while the multitudinous roar of leviathan filled the air. He buried his terror as best he could, while his fist went numb from the repeated impacts.
“Please,” he began to sob. “My daughter’s sick. For the love of God, let me back in.”
Still, the wall remained silent, and the sounds of leviathan grew. To the howling was added the crackling of bones and rending of flesh. They were the sounds of something misshapen tearing itself apart and reforming with every tortured breath.
Matthias shut the sounds out of his mind and continued to assail the wall. The bones in his hand felt broken, and a thin stream of blood trickled down his arm.
There came a noise from just behind him like silk sliding over splintered wood, and a trembling voice whispered, “Eat.”
Through a tight grimace, Matthias growled, “Open.”
And it did.
And that’s Chapter 1 of Avarice. It’s a very short introduction, little more than a come-on really, that never-the-less establishes a few key facts. This is a terrible wildland full of inhuman horrors and irreparable psychological traumas, and Matthias Cole would still prefer it to what’s inside the walls. With any luck, it would make you itch to read the next page.
If you feel that particular itch, the next page will be here in a week. Be sure to tune in for the another exciting installment.
In the meantime, I’ll head back to the article I’m working on.